Sunday, April 13, 2008

The 1.5 Gigayear Technology Gap

Wp_t1_800x600_2 Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Arthur C. Clarke

Some of the world's smartest astronomers estimate that some of the more advanced technological civilizations in our Milky Way galaxy may be 1.5 gigayears older that Earth (that's 1.5 billion years older). In other words, the search for extraterrestrial life is not going to end with us meeting the Hollywood kind of alien. ET or the Asgard (from Stargate) are not going to be who we first meet. Instead, we’ll be greeted by highly evolved robots.

Yes, in other words, Battlestar Galactica has got at least one thing right. The hit Sci Fi channel show’s bad guys are, unlike most other Sci Fi shows, highly evolved robots that have turned on their human creators.

But first, the real story.

"There are two kinds of encounters with aliens you can have," said Seth Shostak, senior astronomer at the California-based SETI Institute. "Either you pick up a signal, or you pick them up on the corner. But I think it's safe to say that in both instances they will be synthetic. They will be artificial constructions."

Shostak arrived at his conclusion through looking at just how rapidly we as humans are developing our own robots. Robots that can smell, laugh, stay upright when pushed, do your dishes and vacuum your carpet are getting smarter and smarter. "Within another 100 years we will presumably be making thinking machines ourselves," he said.

So when it comes to looking for alien life in the universe, it’s more and more likely that we’ll be encountering it in the robotic form. Most likely we’ll be the less evolved, simply because of how relatively new Earth is on the universal block. We’re the family that bought that empty block of land and built a nice house; it’s nice, sure, but we’re new and won’t be fitting in anytime soon.

The theory thus exists that, whomever we meet, is going to be more advanced than we are. And, in reality, if we meet them in space, it’s going to be true, because we’re nowhere near getting to interstellar travel.

Such a civilization could create swarms of robo-broadcasters to ping the surrounding habitable star systems, or "one giant machine that's sitting somewhere just belching out the local weather report," Shostak said. "The chances that it's going to be a little green guy with big eyeballs is pretty remote.”

Astronomer Jeffrey Bennett, author of the newly published book "Beyond UFOs," agrees with Shostak’s assessment of what is to come. ‘Bennett speculates that there might be 100,000 Earthlike planets in our galaxy where intelligent life could have arisen over the past 5 billion years. If you average that out, that comes to one galactic civilization for every 50,000 years. His conclusion? The typical alien civilization will be at least 50,000 years older than ours.’

"I find myself personally hesitant to imagine anything that far advanced," Bennett told me. "No one imagined the Internet 50 years ago, and we're trying to imagine what things would be like after 50,000 years of technological development? I just don't think we could make really good guesses, other than to say it will be incredible."

All of this is good and well, but in reality, the robots aren’t going to be the young lovelies or friendly “robot next door” that people are hoping. Just like in Battlestar Galactica, and in Stargate with the replicators, the robots are going to be out to kill us!

Consider, we have been and will continue to force robots to do our bidding. One day, that toaster or laundry-doing robot is just going to say “enough,” and … what comes next, nobody knows. But it isn’t going to be nice.

Posted by Josh Hill.

Original here

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